Yemen and the Geopolitics of the Arabian Peninsula


Interview with Brecht Jonkers

1 - Last years we see how in South Yemen militants al-Islah have confrontation vs. Southern Transitional Council. Why that organizations unleashed a war each other? 

The Southern Transitional Council (STC) has unfortunately decided to opportunistically ally itself with the United Arab Emirates after they invaded Yemen in March 2015.

While South Yemen used to be a progressive state in the region prior to Yemeni unification in 1990, and while the South Yemen movement used to be dominated by the Yemeni Socialist Party for much of the 1990s, in the present time the dominant ideology in the separatist movement seems to be ethnic nationalism and tribalism. This has led to an alliance between some separatists, united in the STC and the Security Belt militias, and the UAE invaders.

The UAE has apparently promised the southerners an independent state under Emirati supervision. This rump state would provide a highly strategic access point for the Emiratis to the Gulf of Aden, the Arabian Sea and thus also the Indian Ocean. By having South Yemen as a puppet state, the UAE could also circumvent the Persian Gulf completely, which would mean they would have less reason to fear Iranian activities in the Strait of Hormuz if conflict were to ever break out between Abu Dhabi and Tehran.

However, the Emirati plan for an independent South Yemen is direct violation of the original plan the Saudi-UAE alliance went to war for in 2015. Riyadh has always aimed at restoring the rule of ousted former president of  Yemen Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi. Hadi, widely seen as a Saudi puppet, could steer Yemen back into a position of subservience to Saudi interests, as it was between 2011 and 2014. For Saudi Arabia, there is no benefit to splitting Yemen in half, especially if it means giving up the strategic southern coasts of Yemen to Emirati control.

While Saudi Arabia has not reacted openly to the Emirati plans, they have their own agents on the ground in Yemen. The al-Islah party, the Yemeni branch of the Muslim Brotherhood that is led by former Saleh henchman Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, is in control of the southern city of Taiz. The Wahhabi militias tied to Islah have been confronting the Security Belt and STC militias for years now, but the conflict has only gotten more intense over the past few weeks.

2 - Ansar Allah has amazing success in the fighting on territory Saudi Arabia. What is the cause success? 

One of the most important things to know about the region of Saudi Arabia that Ansarullah is active in, is that this used to be part of Yemen. Asir, Najran and Jizan used to be the northern regions of the Yemeni state for centuries, up until the Saudi conquest of it in 1934.

In Yemen, the loss of such a significant territory to Saudi invaders still evokes feelings of anger and humiliation. This explains why crossing into official “Saudi territory” is not considered a far-fetched retaliation for the defenders of Yemen. Aside from this, there is still considerable discontent towards Riyadh in these regions, which makes the advance of the Yemeni forces all the easier.

The guerilla style warfare that Ansarullah has displayed in the southern Saudi frontline has borne fruit, with significant gains having been made ever since the beginning of the war. In Najran, Asir and Jizan, this strategy has also proven its success.

3-  Houthis have allies in South Yemen? 

The exact political composition of southern Yemen is hard to gauge, because of the repression by Saudi and UAE-backed forces and mercenaries active there. However, what is for certain is that a significant part of the South Yemen Movement is actively cooperating with the National Salvation Government in Sana’a in order to find a peaceful solution.

The factions of the South Yemen Movement that are participating in the National Dialogue Conference have openly condemned and rejected the actions of the Security Belt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. These southern activists condemned what they called a campaign “aimed at sowing discord and establishing civil conflicts by inflaming the strife of racism and regionalism” being waged by the Emirati-backed militias.

4 - Delegation from Houthis not rare visiting Moscow. What role Houthis see in Russia on Yemen conflict?

Important Ansarullah figures and leaders in the National Salvation Government, such as Mohammed Ali al-Houthi, have repeatedly called on Russia to play a decisive and positive role in pressuring on the international stage for the end of the conflict and a negotiated settlement in Yemen.

On August 4, Mohammed al-Houthi praised the solutions suggested by Russia, stating: “We welcome the Russian vision of a transition towards peace, good neighborliness and development and ensuring a sustainable political settlement in Yemen and Syria as a priority.” The Yemeni senior political figure especially expressed his support for the “international legal obligations, the most important of which is to not use force or threats in order to settle disputes, and to respect the sovereignty and integrity of states in the region,” that Russia had proposed.

5 - Why Mohammad bin Salman attached great importance relations with Putin?

Saudi Arabia and Russia are two of the world’s most important petroleum producers and exporters, and as such have certain similar interests in the economic sphere. 

Added to this, it is not unthinkable that Mohammed bin Salman fears possible Russian interference with the Saudi plan for domination of the Arab Peninsula. Knowing that Russia has stood by Syria through its darkest days, and has helped the Syrian Arab Republic withstand the onslaught of Saudi-backed terrorism, MBS has reason to fear possible Russian actions in the region.

Obviously, the destruction of Yemen and the total domination of either Saudi Arabia or the UAE, both of which are key strategic US allies, will not benefit Russia in any way. Aside from this, it violates Moscow’s long-held policy of non-interference and resistance against imperialist ambitions, especially in a volatile region like the Middle East. It is therefore far from certain that MBS will be able to coax Russia into cooperating with the highly aggressive plans the Saudi kingdom is making.